UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on a landmark summit in Japan to improve sanitation in East Asia.
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Improving Sanitation and Hygiene in Rural East Asia
Steve Nettleton: For Rakimi, water for hygiene is a seasonal luxury. The only water source for her village in the hills above the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta is the same pond used by cattle. In the dry season, she and her neighbors must pay for water to be trucked up from the city below. Her family's only choice of toilet is a pit dug into the hillside.
Rakimi's children have been suffering from an unexplained rash on their arms and chests. She says doctors blame the problem on poor sanitation.
Rakimi: It's a struggle every day, balancing going to get water and taking care of my children. I expect the government should provide us running water and our own latrine, or any other donors that might help us.
Steve Nettleton: Rakimi is one of more than 800 million people in East Asia who live without sanitation, a figure that represents nearly half the total population in the region.
A study financed by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program, or WSP, found that in four East Asian countries, economic losses from poor sanitation and hygiene are equivalent to two-percent of their combined GDP.
Three quarters of those without sanitation live in rural areas, where infant mortality and malnutrition are notably higher than in the cities.
Anupama Rao Singh: It is the women who really face the consequences or cope with the consequences of the lack of sanitation, whether because of continued ill-health of their children, whether they have concerns of privacy that they themselves face, or whether they have to bear the cost of treatment in looking after their children who fall ill frequently.
Steve Nettleton: On the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, a consensus for change. Representatives from 14 East Asian countries gathered for two days of talks aimed at boosting efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene.
The event, co-hosted by UNICEF, the WSP and the World Health Organization, was the highest-level gathering of its kind in the region. It ended with a new call on governments to increase investment, particularly to benefit the poor, and to strengthen regional cooperation in tackling the problem.
Jamal Saghir: So, we’d like to see more political will. We would like to see some policy decisions so that an adequate environment for investment is there. And when you have this political will and the right regulation and right framework, investment will flow. We would like to see a framework in which sanitation is looked at much more comprehensively than we have seen so far in some countries.
Steve Nettleton: Representatives agreed to hold a follow up meeting in two years, a chance to measure how far pledges made today go to improving the lives of women and children in developing countries of Eastern Asia.
In Beppu City, Japan, this is Steve Nettleton reporting for UNICEF Television. Unite for Children.